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The more I talk to people about the grace of God revealed in the gospel and about what it means to be a Christian, the more I realize that most people don’t really get the gospel. They don’t really understand the nature of reality. Any professing Christian that has any sort of biblical understanding would readily admit that salvation is by grace. But how is that we recieve grace? How do I know if I have found mercy from God?

The apostle Paul hit the nail on the head when he said, “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). The problem is most of professing American Christianity does not realize that recieving mercy does not depend on them, but upon God. What would you say if I told you that reading your bible, going to church, praying, or any other religious duty did not guarantee that God will be gracious to you? Do you think that being a Christian means that God will show mercy to you? Or do you think you are a Christian because God has shown mercy to you?

You see we do not become Christians when we start to do something, but rather when God begins to do something in us “He [God] who began a good work in you” (Phil. 1:6). And so we are called to examine ourselves to see if we have been born of God or whether we are yet in our sins (see 1 John). While I can’t give an exaustive list, let me list a some of the evidences that one is born of God (i.e. that you are not a Christian in name only).

  • You have beheld the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:4-6)
  • You’re life displays the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23)
  • You’re life is being conformed into the image of God in Christ, that is, you are becoming more Christ-like. (Rom. 8:29, 2 Cor. 3:18, 1 John 3:2-3)
  • You’re life is being changed not by adhering to a set of rules and regulations, but by beholding the glory of God in Christ. (2 Cor. 3:18, 1 John 3:2-3, 1 John 4:19, Col. 2)
  • You crave the pure milk of God’s Word and delight in it. (1 Pet. 2:2, Ps. 119, Rom. 7:22)
  • You count all your righteous deeds to be polluted rags and rejoice in the the righteousness of another, “the Lord our righteousness” (Phil. 3:7-11, Jer. 23:6)
  • You live a life of ongoing repentence, since “the grace of God has appeared…instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Tit. 2:11-12, cf. Rom. 8:1-13, Heb. 12:4-11).

The bottom line is this: If you have been experienced the grace of God, it will be evident in your life. If your life is not being conformed to the image of Christ, it may be evidence that you have not recieved mercy from God. If you have need of mercy you must come to the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, who offered Himself up as a sacrifice once for all the just for the unjust so that He might bring us to God. There is no other who is fit to be the dispenser of God’s grace, than the Son of God who clothed Himself in likeness of sinful flesh, so that He might glorify the Father through His perfect obedience and His perfrect sacrifice on behalf of those who would trust in Him. “He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4)

I was sitting in Panera Bread earlier this evening and working on some homework, and my mind started thinking about eternity. What if I ended up in hell? Normally when I stop to think about the possibility of ending up spending an eternity suffering the wrath of the Almighty God, the thought terrifies me. But for some reason this evening it didn’t, in fact it encouraged me.

Here’s why….because as I thought about my sin and the punishment it deserved, I thought that hell would be a fitting end. Would not God be justified in midigating carrying out such a sentence on a sinner such as I? Even more, would not His righteousness and His justice be rightly displayed for all to see? I thought much like the Psalmist who said,

Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge.” (Psalm 51:4).

And what a wonderful thought that should be! That God will be justified when He speaks. That He will be blameless when He judges. How often to we, even as Christians, think that hell is a bad place? How often do we think about the suffering that will take place there, but not why it is taking place? I think if we thought more often about why hell exists – because of our sin. And we thought more often about the character of God – His righteousness, His holiness, His justice. We would not think hell to be such a horrid place, but rather a most fitting demonstration of God’s wrath and power.

I fear that the reason most of us think hell to be such a bad thing, it is because we don’t think it is fair. And we don’t think it’s fair, because we do not understand the gravity of our sin, of our offense against God. May we all be able to say like the apostle Paul, “let God be found true, and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:3). May we be mistaken, but let God always be right (which He is by the way).

But in the final analysis I should add that hell will not be the perfect demonstration of His righteous condemnation of sin, the cross of Jesus Christ will be. If for no other reason than this: When God poured out His wrath on the Son on Calvary, His wrath was satisfied once for all for those who would believe. Those in hell will never satisfy His wrath, and that is why it is eternal.

It was not to long ago that there was a major debate within evangelical circles over whether a person could have Christ as savior and not have Him as Lord. As I have studied the 6th chapter of Romans this last week, I realized that “Lordship” is really at the heart of the gospel.

In the closing chapter 5, Paul tells us “as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”  (Rom. 5:21). Paul has just informed us of one of the greatest contrasts in history. On one hand, you have sin and death entering into the world through the transgression of one man (Adam), and on the other you have righteousness entering into the world through one righteous act of one man (Christ). Paul wants us to understand that through Adam their came a “reign” of sin, while in Christ their has come a “reign” of grace.

In chapter 6, Paul then sets for this great truth that through Christ their comes a change in the reigning, or lording, influence in a persons life. Paul then develops how this change of “Lordship” takes place on both a theological level and a practical level.

Theologically: First Paul in 6:3-11 shows us that the change of ruling principal in a persons life comes from their union with Christ. Having been united with Christ, they have become shares in His death, so when Christ surrendered to the control of death, the believer did also. However, when Christ rose again in triumph over the reign of death, the believer arose to a new life with Him. To put it simply, the believer has been crucified with Christ and now Christ lives in them. (cf. Gal. 2:20)  As Paul explains later when a person becomes a believer they are not only freed from sin, but are also enslaved to righteousness. Sin is no longer the lord of their life, but God is.

Practically: Paul then devotes 6:12-21 to instruct the believer to act out this truth. They are to present their members as instruments of righteousness, rather than as instruments of evil. They are to act in such a way as will reflect this great truth. Sin is no longer the ruling principal in their lives. It does not tell them how to act or how to think or how to feel, but rather God becomes their sovereign and grace becomes their teacher. So Paul tells us in Titus,

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. (Titus 2:11-14)

It seems pretty clear to me that there really is a “Lordship” controversy going on the world today and it has everything to do with salvation. Those who are still under the reign of sin are also under the reign of death. Those whose lives are controlled by sinful desires are likely still in their sins and have not truly come to Christ despite any confession they may have made to the contrary.

But those who are truly united with Christ will show themselves to be no longer under the lordship of sin, but now under the lordship of God. The ruling principal in their hearts will be the grace of God, which was purchased at the cost of God’s only Beloved Son. And as the love of God is poured out in their hearts and the appreciation of this grace grows, they will be more and more conformed into the image of their Savior. And this change orignated in the heart, therefore, it cannot be produced by the will of man or human effort, but only by God effectually changing the heart of the man through His grace.

As a result of listening to an excellent sermon on the the sufficiency of God’s grace this weekend, I began to wonder how it is that when it comes to sanctification so many believers seem to neglect the grace of God by falling into one of two extremes: Legalism or Antinomianism. I began to wonder if there might be a relationship between what a person boasts in and how they approach sanctification.

As Christian, we know that there is nothing good within ourselves and that the only one worth boasting in is the Lord. The apostle Paul had to remind the Corinthian church twice that they should only be boasting in the Lord “let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:31, cf. 2 Cor 2:17) In both cases Paul was likely quoting the words of the prophet Jeremiah, Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches” (Jer. 9:23). Yet I would like to propose three perspectives about boasting in God that will result in either Legalism, Antinomianism, or True Christianity.

Boasting in God’s Righteousness. What does a person who boasts in God’s righteousness look like you might wonder? Well what is the primary revelation of God’s righteousness to man, is it not the Law? Are those boasting in the law, like the Pharisees, not concerned first and foremost about God’s righteousness. They see a God who is holy, righteous, and just and will not allow those who break God’s law to favor in God’s eyes. Much like the older brother in the story of the prodigal son they want justice. They are offended by the idea that someone can break God’s perfect standard and yet find favor in His sight. They find themselves questioning the validity of a person faith based on the strictest adherence to the law. They are in the end theLegalist, who in the name of protecting God’s righteousness, demand near perfect obedience before they will believe that someone is saved.

Boasting in God’s Grace.This I believe for many Christians has become the most dangerous of all. The person who finds him or herself boasting in God’s grace clearly recognizes that are in need of it. They cherish it and love it, because of what they believe it will do for them. These people are the people that are inclined to say, “we are no longer under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:15). They are likely to think lightly of sin, because in the end it is only grace that saves. And greater sin only leads to greater grace. So in the name of promoting the “greatness” of grace they trample on God’s righteousness. They will not question any-ones faith as long as they profess to have it, no matter how anti-God the person’s conduct may be. They are in the end the Antinomianist, who in the name of protecting God’s graciousness, demand that you cannot demand any sort of obedience as evidence of a person’s salvation.

Boasting in God’s Glory.In Romans chapter 5, we find what it is that believers are truly to boast in when they are boasting in the Lord. In verse 2 we read, “and we exult in hope of the glory of God.” A true Christian should not find Himself exulting or boasting in one part of God’s character to the neglect of another. Those who love God love all of Him. They should love not only His righteousness and His grace, but also His goodness, His wisdom, His omnipotence, and His sovereignty (just to name a few). They do not think lightly of their sin, because the find a concern within them for the glory of God. Yet they do not fear his judgment, because they have come to know and appreciate His grace. For them they find the notion that a person can claim faith and yet live in disdain for God’s glory to be inconsistent. They cannot see a person saying they love God and yet acting as if they hate Him (see 1 John 3 & 4). Yet they will not be quick to condemn those who are immature in the faith or those who fall as not being Christians, instead they will find themselves encouraging and exhorting and even at times rebuking that person as brother.

But what does the true Christian demand in the name of protecting God’s glory? I believe what true christianity demands on thing of a person….love! When I say love I am not simply talking about an appreciation or affection for someone, but of a love that mirrors the love of God himself. It is a love that expresses itself first and foremost in the sacrifice of oneself. This love expresses itself in the surrender ones own interests to the interests of God. It seeks not its own glory, but the glory of God.

So be careful what attribute of God you find yourself boasting in or even delighting in. Because whatever attribute you love most about God is likely a reflection of what you love most about yourself. If you find His righteousness delightful, but His graciousness disdainful, you should be concerned. So too, if you find His graciousness delightful, and His righteousness disdainful, you too should be concern. If however, you find yourself loving both His righteousness and His graciousness, press on for their is immeasurably more to learn about this Glorious God.